Monthly Archives: April 2016

Brew Day: Broken Fist IPA (American IPA)

I came of age in the heyday of professional wrestling. This was the era of the Monday Night Wars as Vince McMahaon’s World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) battled for TV viewers, and ultimately survival, with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Nothing pushes boundaries, innovation, and creativity more than competition. This competition fueled an era of popularity of professional wrestling that hasn’t been approached since called The Attitude Era.

During The Attitude Era, the WWE got away from the cartoonish characters the company was known for in the 1980s, as a newer starts pushed the envelope. The biggest star of this era, (Sorry Rock) was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stone Cold would climb up onto the second rope, someone would toss him cans of beer, and he would crush “Steveweisers”.

During The Attitude Era, Stone Cold would usually crush a light American Lager. At a time when Stone Cold merchandise was everywhere, there were plans to develop a Stone Cold beer. Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition.

Stone Cold’s wrestling career was ultimately cut short due to a neck injury. After retiring from wrestling, Austin has pursued several interesting projects such as acting, hosting the reality show Redneck Island on CMT, creating and hosting reality competition series, The Broken Skull Challenge, and the excellent Steve Austin Show podcast on Podcast One. Also during his retirement, Austin began branching out as a beer drinker beyond the light lagers the Stone Cold character was known for. Over time Austin developed a love for craft beer, IPAs in particular, which gave him the itch again to create his own beer.

“The Texas Rattlesnake” as Austin was also known during his career, now goes back and forth between his Broken Skull Ranch in Texas, and a home in the Los Angeles area. After reaching out to breweries in both Texas and California, he collaborated with El Segundo Brewing on Broken Skull IPA. The beer has gotten positive reviews and currently has a 3.93 rating on Untappd. It is currently distributed in Southern California, and available for sale online in states where it is legal to ship beer. In Massachusetts it is not.

Right around time the beer came out, my cousin Adam who is also a huge wrestling fan, purchased his first home. He was disappointed he couldn’t have Broken Skull IPA shipped to Massachusetts, but I thought if I made a version of Broken Skull IPA it would be a perfect beer to brew for his housewarming party. Adam was on board with the idea, but wanted to wait until Memorial Day weekend to have a lot of people over.

Austin had Rob Croxall, the owner of El Segundo brewing as a guest on his podcast. They talked about how they developed the beer, the ingredients used, and the flavor and aroma they were going for. Based on that, as well as comments and photos on Untappd, I put together a recipe.

I bought my ingredients locally after dropping off a couple of competition entries. The shop had a limit of 2oz per person of Citra hops due to their scarcity. I had make a couple of minor tweaks to the recipe to compensate.

Initially I was going to use Chico yeast, Safale S05. However, after reading one of my favorite brewing blogs, Brulosophy, rave about WLP090 San Diego Super Yeast, I thought this would be the perfect recipe to use it for the first time. The attenuation is as good, if not better than Chico which should help make sure the beer is dry enough to let the hops shine through. It also floccuates much better, which should make the finished beer clearer. I don’t want this West Coast IPA to be hazy like Fort Dummer or Alan’s Stepchild. I don’t know if I will be able to match the brilliant clarity of the commercially produced version, but I want to be as close to it as I can.

I wouldn’t call this a clone of Broken Skull IPA, it’s hard to clone I beer you have never tasted, but it is certainly inspired by it. Will this be a tasty and refreshing beer to drink at a Memorial Day Cookout? Hell yeah! And that’s the bottom line, because the (would-be) brewmaster says so!

See the full recipe here.

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Brew Day: Westbrook Gose Clone

I love German beers. When I think of German beer I think of the clean lagers, the reinheitsgebot, and maybe hefeweizen. Not all German beer is that regimented. One such style is Gose.

Gose (pronounced Goh-zuh) is a very light-colored, lightly sour beer that is lightly hopped and brewed with sea salt and coriander. Light and refreshing, Gose is a perfect summer beer. Not widely available until recently, examples available locally are Rising Tide Gose, Samuel Adams 26.2 which is a draught-only release along the Boston Marathon route, and Anderson Valley who also makes several Gose variants with different fruits. The best Gose I have had is not available in Massachusetts: Westbrook Gose from South Carolina.

Westbrook Gose is highly sought after. We picked it up when we visited Asheville, North Carolina. The shop had a one six-pack per-person limit. One friend of mine traded for an entire case. I can only imagine how 24 cans were packaged in one box and shipped.


The other Goses I mentioned are all solid beers that are relatively balanced. Westbrook Gose slapped you in the face with tartness and salt. It’s a beer I want in my life. My best bet is to try and clone it. Luckily a thread on Homebrew Talk has the recipe, and a purported photo from the brewery showing the recipe.

The easiest way to add the tartness to the beer is to just add some lactic acid to the wort. From what I have read this gives the beer a one-dimensional and artificial sourness. The sourness in Goze is produced by lactobacillus (lacto), the bacteria used to make yogurt. The safest way that would ensure the most consistent results to sour the beer would be to buy a lacto culture produced by one of the big yeast labs.

From reading the Homebrew Talk thread, Westbrook doesn’t use a pure lacto culture. Lactobacillus in the wild loves making itself at home on the husk of grains. Westbrook adds a small amount of grain to the wort after the mash, lets it naturally sour, and then boils the beer. Local brewer Jake Rogers, who is opening True North Ale Company in Ipswich, employed a similar method at Ales for ALS with his Flanders Red. Jake’s beer was the peoples’ choice. I think this will be a fun method to try!

While researching I stumbled upon this article which suggests lowering the pH of the wort to 4.5 before trying to naturally sour it to try and prevent wild yeast in the air from infecting the beer. I had to wait until I received a new pH meter before I could brew the beer. It showed up in my mailbox exactly like this:

After mashing in, I realized the meter did not come with any batteries. The batteries cost as much as the meter. The instructions to calibrate the devise weren’t all that clear. When I checked the pH of my wort, it was way too high. I kept adding lactic acid to bring it down, but the reading was still too high. After adding what felt like an obscene amount of the lactic acid I tasted the wort and realized something was wrong. I re-calibrated the meter and noticed my pH was 3.1. To put that in perspective, the acid-based sanitizing solution I use will kill bacteria up to a pH level of 3.5.

I was panicking, thinking what I could do to save the batch. I topped off my wort with another gallon of water. I then added a pound of dry malt extract to dillute the wort too much. The pH was back up to around 3.7 which was right around where it should be for the finished beer

My next problem was that I had too much wort to boil at home. Luckily I was able to stop by Andy’s and boil in his backyard. As I was carrying my carboy to my car, one of my friends from the North Shore Brewers saw me carry my full carboy up the street!

I was able to salvage the batch. Within two days of pitching my yeast there was some krausen and airlock activity.

When I bought my ingredients, I accidentally bought enough grain for a five gallon batch. I already have everything I need to brew this again and learn from my mistakes. If I brew a second, smaller batch that is naturally soured with grain, I will be able to do a side-by-side to see how much of a difference there is in flavor.

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Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: Rhode Island

Boston is the home of two seminal craft brewers: Samuel Adams and Harpoon, while the greater Boston area boasts a burgeoning scene of newer craft brewers and cider houses like Night Shift, Jack’s Abby, Far From the Tree, and Trillium. Portland, Maine is home to pioneers like DL Geary and Shipyard, as well as highly touted newcomers like Bissell Brothers, Foundation, and Rising Tide. Vermont has the most breweries per capita of any state as The Alchemist, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and Hill Farmstead brew some of the country’s most sought-after beers. Sandwiched between Maine and Vermont, New Hampshire has several fine breweries. Portsmouth is an underrated beer city. Connecticut has a thriving beer scene even if  many of the best beers brewed in the state don’t make it to our corner of Massachusetts.

Of the six New England states, Rhode Island has been something of a craft beer backwater. The largest brewer in the state is Narragansett. Narragansett is my American Lager of choice, and Del’s Shandy is a summer go-to. Although they have plans to open a brewery in Pawtucket, ‘Gansett hasn’t been brewed in the state for over thirty years. Everything you see in stores is contract-brewed out of New York state.

The site of the new Narragansett brewery is at a new facility called the Isle Brewers Guild. When completed the guild will in addition to partnering with established brewers to add brewing capacity, it will also assist their partner brewers in other business functions. Hopefully the facility will help the beer scene in Rhode Island grow.

I visited Rhode Island to judge at the Ocean State Homebrew Competition which was held at the guild. An old mill building, interior demolition was set to begin almost immediately after the competition was over.  I judged Pale European Lagers in the morning, and stouts in the afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised to have judged several Czech lagers in the morning as the Czech styles were only added recently. Most of the stouts I judged in the afternoon were solid as well. Noting I tried was mind-blowing, but there was only one beer that was undrinkable.

All the proceeds from the competition went to the Rhode Island food bank. The organizers did a great job assembling an impressive array of raffle prizes. All entrants and judges were invited to the final round of judging. For each food item donated to the food bank, a person was given a raffle ticket. Judges were given raffle tickets for volunteering his/her time.

Jennie rode to Pawtucket with me and dropped me off at the competition. While I was judging she had more of a chance to check out the scene than I did. She visited Brewtopia Brewery and Kitchen where Revival Brewing is located. She gave both the Conga and Conga Imperial IPA a rating of 4.25 on Untappd. She also visited Tilted Barn brewery in Exeter. A very small, family-run brewfarm, she enjoyed the two beers she sampled, but was disappointed that The Chosen One DIPA keg kicked while she was there.

By the time I was done judging I was quite hungry. We stopped by a bar in Pawtucket called Doherty’s. On the outside it looked like an unassuming neighborhood bar, but inside they had over 80 beers on tap and one of the most impressive bottle lists you will find. I tried some of the Rhode Island beers that I wasn’t familiar with. The pale ales and IPAs tended to be maltier and more English-inspired. The standout beer was an Oatmeal Milk Stout by Proclamation Ale Company.

Proclimation has been vocal about the main culprit in limiting the growth of craft beer in the state: the state’s arcane laws. In Rhode Island a brewery can only give a person three 4 oz samples at the brewery. Additionally they can only pour one sample at a time; flight paddles are illegal.  Breweries can only sell 72 oz of beer to go at the brewery. That works out to one six-pack, or one growler fill. Small breweries also can’t self-distribute. None of the newer breweries in Massachusetts would have been able to survive with those restraints without radically changing their business model.

The one brewery I was able to visit with Jennie after dinner was Long Live Beerworks in Providence. I was so full I could only drink two of my three samples. Their ‘Lil Sippy Pale Ale reminded me a lot of Peeper or Mo from Maine Beer Company. We made it there right as they were closing and had a chance to chat with the owners.

Long Livr has only been in business for three months, and to make the business viable they need to sign with a distributor. Without an agreement, they can’t even sell their beer at the restaurant next door. A brewer had to be very careful about who they sign a deal with to distribute their beer. The distributor invests time and money to market the beer, get it on store shelves, and on tap at bars. Since a distributor’s job is to invest significant resources in a brand, laws and contracts are written in such a way that it is very difficult to back out of an agreement with a distributor. Finding the right partner is essential.

After the brewery closed we were both tired. We left Beverly at around 7:00 a.m. that morning. Originally we were going to stay the night and shop up for the raffle the next day, but we just wanted to go home. I was disappointed because the competition organizers put together as impressive a collection of raffle items as I have seen in the handful of competitions I’ve judged in. Next year I will have to plan our weekend ahead of time. Hopefully by then the laws governing breweries in Rhode Island will be as libertine as they are for other vices.

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Back in the game!

In 2015 the only competitions I entered were the Ales for ALS competition in Essex, and the competition at the New England Homebrewer’s Jamboree. Neither of those were official Beer Judge Certification Program competitions, and I didn’t get scorecards for either. Last year I paid entry fees for a few competitions, but never sent in my entries. I forgot to send in my entries for the National Homebrew Competition, the biggest competition in the country.  I was banned from the 2016 competition for not sending in my entries for 2015.

My only excuse is laziness. To enter a competition you have to drive to a drop off location which is usually a homebrew shop. That means driving from Beverly to Woburn or Cambridge. The alternative is shipping entries which entails finding an appropriately sized box, packing your bottles carefully, and paying at least $20 to ship via UPS or FedEx (because Beer Mail is still illegal).

About a week ago I met up with my oldest friend at a party. After about five Glenlivets he was imploring me to enter more competitions. I think he saw my not entering more competitions as a sign that I am not taking my brewing seriously enough. I tried to explain to him that the purpose of most competitions is to get constructive feedback and that they really aren’t all that important. He persisted and I promised him I would start entering my beers into competitions again.

The Camp Randall Red IPA I brewed for the Barrel House Z competition was ready to go and needed to be dropped off. I took that as an opportunity to drop off some other beers as well. Jennie and I opened the first bottle of Pyrite Pistol and determined it wasn’t quite ready yet. After two weeks there was no carbonation and the beer tasted lifeless. The beer sat in a secondary fermenter for five weeks, I probably should have added some fresh yeast at bottling. If the Geary’s HSA clone is any indication, the beer will carbonate and improve over time. I am not worried yet.


The HSA has steadily improved over time and I am quite happy with it. I entered that, BeerSmith’s Dry Irish Stout, and the Camp Randall Red IPA into the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrew Competition hosted by the Green Mountain Mashers in Burlington, Vermont. The judging is April 30 in Burlington. I am tempted to volunteer just so I can drink Heady Topper, Lawson’s, Hill Farmstead, and Fiddlehead while I am in the area. There was a drop-off location at the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge. I dropped off my entries, had a nice chat with the owner, and picked up ingredients for a future batch. When in Rome!

The drop off location for the Barrel House Z competion was at the Homebrew Emporium in South Weymouth. The shop in South Weymouth did have Wyeast 1318 London Ale III yeast, one of my favorite strains. Not only is it awesome in traditional English styles, lots of “New England IPAs” also use the strain. I look forward to working with it again.

As I was already on the South Shore, it only made sense to stop by Trillium’s new brewery in Canton. I mean it was practically on the way home! Two growler fills, six bottles, one t-shirt and $115 later I had all of the juicy, hoppy deliciousness I could stand.


Half of my Saturday was devoted to dropping off and buying beer. It didn’t leave time for brewing and bottling. I might have to have a brew night to kick-start my pipeline.

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